3 months ago in a tiny startup office in the middle of Zurich, a woman was sitting down for her first interview for a web developer internship. A lot was on the line, but she kept on a brave face, trying to somehow, by some miracle, get the foot in the door in tech world. She was armed with vanilla JS/CSS, a touch of Bootstrap and a bucket of enthusiasm. That woman was me and this is my story.
It's a startup of 6 people, focusing on improving the microclimate of workplaces. Their webapp has a user-friendly and engaging twist on feedback surveys that employees get. Results are displayed in a visual and meaningful way, allowing team leaders to track trends, mark down problems, set deadlines, delegate issues etc.
They were looking for a front end web developer to finalise their webapp (big part of it is served to clients with Google Charts and manually put together slideshows at the moment). They were looking for someone with a few years of experience, knowledge of Vue+Vuetify and using CSS preprocessors. I had none of that, but did that stop me from bugging them? No! 😄
I was not fooling myself, I knew I was missing some major requirements. But I decided to go for it anyway, since startups are my weak spot and it was one of the few postings where German was not a necessity (their team speaks stellar English!). In my cover letter I decided to be honest and just a tad bit pleading.
Here's what I sent, unedited:
Hello, I am writing to apply for a junior front end web developer position. As someone self-taught via online courses, I am hoping to practice my skillset in a real-life work environment to bring aesthetically pleasing and responsive projects into the world, one pixel at a time!
I've always enjoyed an ambitious environment of a start-up company, especially with no ironclad "hierarchy", allowing people's creative minds work together for a common goal. I am very passionate about proving myself in this field as an asset to the development team with my dedication, enthusiasm and an eye for detail. My work ethic of encountering a technical problem is to try and tackle it independently first and never shy away from learning a more elegant solution.
As a junior web developer, I take responsibility and initiative for improving my skillset. This means that if a framework or library which I am not familiar yet is needed for the project, I will make it a personal priority to find online resources to teach the concept to myself instead of expecting others to tutor me from ground-up (for example for this opening I expect to spend many evenings with Vue courses!).
If a standard position is not available due to me being relatively new to the field, I would be interested even in a minimally paid temporary intern position assisting the senior frontend developers. Perhaps this way I could showcase my working ethics and earn a place in your company in the future. You may find more information and work examples on my portfolio site here: https://anzudev.com. I'm excited and hopeful to hear back!
They replied that for a front end developer position they were looking for someone a bit more experienced which was absolutely expected. BUT! Here comes the unexpected part. They said they noticed the drawings in my portfolio which matched their app's illustrations and that they really liked my last paragraph offering myself up as an intern, as it showed my eagerness to learn. I was invited to a meeting in their office and I immediately loved their easygoing vibe, product idea and how it was visually presented to clients.
The only pickle was: they need the project to be finalised with Vue/Vuetify. I just straight up honestly said: "Phew, it has been in my bucketlist for months, but I am a total green leaf on that as of right now!". Here's where the magical bit lies: instead of sending me out of the door they said "Well, why don't you come and learn it in our office? Let's have a trial period of 2 months and see how quickly you can catch things on?"
Needless to say, I was on board! Some would say "Eh, just as an intern?", but for me, that's everything. As someone self-taught without a physical support system, this experience would be invaluable for the hands-on approach and learning how to work in a team. We agreed on a 80% contract, for 6 months.
As for money, I was lucky enough to be in a position were that was not my main concern. I asked for a modest internship paycheck, just to cover the basic bills (health insurance, public transport, food etc).
I was of course a complete nervous wreck, barely slept the night before! I did not know what to expect, will they slap on some tasks or maybe make me do a technical tests? To try and prepare myself, I followed some tutorials on Vue to grasp the concept of importing components and how they interact with each other, but I was a long way from bending them to my will at ease.
Honestly, I needn't have worried. I arrived to the office, everyone was super encouraging and welcoming. My station was set up and they actually said I can just spend the day continuing the same tutorials to get a bit more comfortable with the component library! When other people arrived, they spoke German about some project specifics, but everyone still went out of their way to speak English as much as possible so that I would be included ❤
We had lunch together as a team, I shared my lovestruck "move to Switzerland" story, we laughed about Swiss stereotypes, pondered about intermittent fasting and with these personal touches it felt like a small family already.
This post concludes the "humble beginnings" series, from now on I'll write under the flag of my internship experience. Expect lots of Vue, Vuetify, prototyping extravaganza and Git heart attacks 🎉